Talking with former Bucs QB Mike Hold
Recently, my adopted home of Youngstown, Ohio was granted a franchise in the AF2, an Arena Football minor league. The Mahoning Valley Thunder team is coached by former Buccaneer replacement quarterback Mike Hold.

Now I always have thought it was odd that I am a St. Petersburg native living in Ohio writing about Tampa Bay football for a British website. (Typing that out, it really is ODD isn’t it!) But the thought of a St. Petersburg native living in Ohio writing about Tampa Bay football for a British website and having the chance to write about a former Tampa Bay quarterback living in Ohio for a British website was just too good to pass up.

Taking a gamble, I called the Thunder and requested an interview with Coach Hold. I half expected to be laughed off the line, but Coach Hold was kind enough to sit for an interview. Of course the interview focused primarily on the Tampa Bay B-Bucs, as the replacements were known, and the overall atmosphere of replacement games. Coach Hold also provided some insight into what he has been doing since his playing days ended and how he came to be invited to join the B-Bucs.

A quarterback at the University of South Carolina, Hold was only given a cursory glance by the NFL. “I was a free agent with the Denver Broncos,” Hold said. “I went to part of training camp but never made it to the pre-season games. That would have been 1986. “I played a year of Arena Football in the summer of 1987 and then went back to South Carolina as a graduate assistant.”

Hold doesn’t remember names, but his return to the SC campus helped him to get back into the NFL in a way he could have never imagined. “One of the USC coaches knew someone on the staff of the Buccaneers. That’s how my name was brought up. So that’s how I got involved and the next thing I know I was in Tampa!”

The NFL players walked out after Week 2 of the season. Shortly after the walk-out, NFL teams called in replacement players to take their place. In some corners of the NFL, police escorts were necessary to get the replacement players to the practice fields safely. Tampa Bay didn’t see that level of hostility, but Hold could sense that he wasn’t welcome. "That was a pretty young team the Bucs had that year. There wasn’t a lot of guff from them. There really wasn’t the bad blood like you heard from elsewhere. There wasn’t any violence.”

“We were staying at a hotel down the street (from One Buc Place) and when we got back to the hotel the regular players would be there to rib us. There were some guys that were truly pissed but if I hadn’t done it (sign to play) I would have never experienced playing.”

That attitude was shared by many of the B-Bucs. They sympathized on some level with the regular players. However, these men had worked hard and dreamed all their lives about playing in the NFL and this was their chance. They took advantage of it, even at the risk of being ridiculed by fans, media and the players they replaced.

“Some people wouldn’t classify it as the NFL,” Hold admits. “When people ask (about my career) I say that I was a replacement player. There were a lot of people that were pissed off but the feeling I had at the time was this is my dream. I understood the players and what they were doing, but I just said I’m going to do it and hope that all goes well.”

Owner Hugh Culverhouse was one of the most powerful men in football during the 1980’s. As a leader of the NFL Management Council, Culverhouse was one of the crafters of the replacement plan. However, Culverhouse never took the time to meet with the men that he sent out to play in uncharted territory. “I do not remember Culverhouse addressing the team,” recalled Hold.

Head Coach Ray Perkins was a different story. In his first year as coach of the Bucs, Perkins had split his first two games before the regulars walked out. A former NFL player, Perkins knew what his players were fighting for. If the coach had conflicted feelings about coaching replacement players, he hid it well according to Hold.

“I never felt like any of the coaches on that staff was against what we were doing. I’m sure they were torn because they understood the players’ position. But the bottom line was that they had a job to do. I felt they treated us with respect and never felt any animosity.”

After a week and a half of practice, the replacement Buccaneers flew to Detroit for a game against the NFC Central Division rival Lions. In the land of the United Auto Workers, Hold and his teammates were introduced to a people with a radically different view of replacement workers.

“We did experience some hostility because it was a union town,” Hold recalled. “We had a police escort with a tractor-trailer in front of the bus to clear out any roadblocks on the way to the arena. There were people hooting and hollering at us as we pulled in. We kind of expected it.”

Hold believes the game against the Lions was one of the more surreal experiences of his life. The Pontiac Silverdome could fit 80,000 fans for football. When the Buccaneers took the field, the building was at less than 10% capacity. “It’s amazing that I remember the attendance was 4,919 people,” Hold said while laughing. “I still have the game sheet. It was loud though. It was amazing how loud it was for the number of people that were in there. It was really loud.”

Adrenaline may have had something to do with Hold’s perspective of the sound but in the first quarter the Lions gave the sparse crowd reason to cheer as they raced to a 17-0 lead. The Buccaneers starting quarterback that day was former University of Florida and Tampa Bay Bandit stand-out John Reaves. Heading into the game Coach Perkins had informed Reaves and Hold that the plan was to have Reaves play in quarters 1 and 3 and Hold in quarters 2 and 4.

Coming into the game down by three scores, Hold was nervous. “As much as I want to downplay it and not get too overly excited about the fact that I played a NFL game, it was exciting,” said Hold. “Any time you take the field whether it is flag football or whatever you get nervous.”

During his time on the field Hold experienced mixed emotions. It was a Sunday afternoon, and he was wearing a NFL uniform playing in a game against a key divisional rival. However, Hold just couldn’t shake the feeling that something about the game wasn’t right.

“Realistically, it (playing in a NFL game) was great but it wasn’t the same as what I imagined it would have been the year before or the year after. I don’t want to downplay it too much but it was what it was. It was a replacement game.”

“It wasn’t the real thing. Did the games count? Yeah, absolutely, but we knew what we were. It may have not been the real thing but we were coached by the real guys. In that respect it was a neat experience. Was it truly the NFL everyone dreamed of? No. But I do have stats!”

Those stats were completing 6 of 15 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns, including a 61-yard shot to wide receiver Eric Streater. Hold’s other touchdown was a 15-yard pass to fullback Adrian Wright. Hold’s solid second quarter of play helped bring the Bucs to within 3 points at halftime.

In keeping with his plan, Perkins lifted Hold in the 3rd quarter and reinserted Reaves at quarterback. The Buccaneers scored 10 points in the third quarter to take their first lead and held on to win 31-27. The B-Bucs were 1-0 and the victory against the Lions for all intents and purposes would prove to be the highpoint of Mike Hold’s NFL career.

Part 2 of this fantastic feature will appear on BUCPOWER.COM tomorrow

Denis Crawford, February 2009